Washington state is reenergizing its statewide tourism efforts with the approval of a statewide tourism agency in March, however it has a way to go to catch up with neighboring states.
As the Washington Tourism Marketing Authority (WTMA) continues to transition into its role, local marketing agencies and tourism stakeholders say they are excited to have the extra reach with a statewide office, however Washington needs to better market its assets to out-of-state visitors.
According to the Washington Tourism Alliance’s 2018 Washington State Tourism Marketing Plan, one of the main challenges of promoting the state is related to its lack of state funding for marketing – which resulted in the statewide tourism agency closing in 2011.
In 2016, Washington had approximately $700,000 in mostly private contributions to spend on marketing, where states such as Oregon, Idaho, Montana and California had tourism budgets of between $8 million and $62 million.
This past legislative session, lawmakers approved a measure signed into law on March 27 which established WTMA. The authority is currently awaiting funding before it becomes fully operational.
According to the plan, “While nearby states and provinces are well aware of our assets and know what makes us different, states further removed, such as Texas and Arizona, cannot readily distinguish us from other Northwestern states.”
David Blandford, Senior Vice President of Public Affairs for Visit Seattle, told Lens that the marketing organization is focusing its efforts on attracting out-of-state visitors. The organization promotes Seattle, King County and the entire state.
Nearly 1,000 businesses are members of Visit Seattle and partner with the organization to travel overseas to promote Seattle and Washington tourism. They also help host visitors during familiarization trips which promote state attractions such as national parks or urban destinations.
The organization has identified seven main overseas markets for tourism: South Korea, Japan, China, Australia together with New Zealand, France, Germany and the U.K.
“Each is different because different markets want different things and demographics,” said Blandford. “Asian markets tend to focus more on shopping, group tours and iconic attractions. European markets and Australians like outdoor activities…and opt to do individual things such as mountain climbing. “
VisitSeattle builds programs based on what each market is likely to want. The organization then works with tour operators on tour packages and with consumer or trade media to help add exposure for destinations.
John Cooper, President and CEO for Yakima Valley Tourism (YVT), told Lens that tourism is one of the leading sectors behind agriculture in Yakima County, valued at $410 million. The region’s efforts are somewhat limited without a statewide agency, however.
YVT is comprised of several business representatives from restaurants, hotels, attractions, retail, transportation as well as industries supporting tourism, including real estate and construction.
“Some of these businesses are totally dependent on traveling and tourism like the hotels. For others, it helps augment their local sales and use like restaurants,” he told Lens. “The range of their dependency on tourism varies but most definitely from a retail standpoint they do benefit when visitors come to town.”
Yakima Valley’s tourism sector is primarily a “drive market,” that is, most visitors come from driving some distance. YVT primarily focuses on that tourist pool and highlighting the region’s strength in wine, beer and craft beverages for markets outside of the valley.
Over the past 30 years, the craft beer movement exploded out of the valley, and now the region is the major producer of hops in the world.
“It seems like everyone has a brewery now with the big growth in the craft beer industry,” said Cooper. “Our distinct advantage is that we are where the hops are grown, and it is harvest season now. A lot of people like to see the process.”
He added that once the statewide tourism marketing alliance is up and running it will allow YVT to extend its reach beyond the immediate region.
“It gives us new marketing opportunities to tell our story, give us new sales efforts in new markets. Say for example it’s decided based on research that Chicago is a good market for inbound visitors…it might be an opportunity to reach out to the travel agency there and tell them about our wine industry.”
Significant international markets for the valley and the state include Canada, the U.K., Germany, Japan and China.
“As a state we haven’t been able to do much (in those markets) without a state marketing program, and we have to rely on Seattle and the Port of Seattle to help carry the weight.”
He added that local tourism agencies require the “third leg of the stool” which is a statewide program.
Last month, Governor Jay Inslee appointed nine members to the WTMA Board to manage statewide tourism money. Board members include Washington Hospitality Association President and CEO Anthony Anton, A-1 Hospitality Group President Vijay Patel, Adrift Hotels Inc. CEO Tiffany Turner and Spokane Sports Commission Vice President of Marketing and Communications Jodi Kayler.
The board will meet for the first time in late August to decide on which nonprofit will oversee WTMA.